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Bookstore renovation hopes to provide an improved customer experience

On July 1, 2021, the University of Notre Dame announced that the bookstore’s management was going to be changed from Follett to Barnes & Noble College (BNC), a transition that has been in progress over the past 14 months.

“The renovation was completed in August 2022, and the newly remodeled Hammes Bookstore is open and serving guests,” BNC Regional Manager Derek Holbert wrote in an email.

The University decided to undertake this project with the goal of improving the experiences of students, faculty and visitors at the bookstore.

“We sought an elevated experience for faculty and students regarding course materials, and BNC answered this need,” vice president for University enterprises and events, Anne Griffith, wrote in an email.

Notre Dame’s partnership with BNC has paved the way for further networking, giving the University an opportunity to collaborate with Fanatics, Champions, Under Armour and many more.

“Through its strategic alliance with sports merchandise leaders Fanatics and Lids, BNC will help deliver an elevated retail experience for students, faculty and the Notre Dame community,” Holbert wrote. “Customers can discover expanded brands from Champion and Under Armour, to Johnnie-O, Peter Millar, Vineyard Vines, Dooney and Burke and female-founded jewelry line, Kyle Kavan.”

The bookstore’s collaboration with Under Armour. | Courtesy of Jenna Abu-Lughod.

Griffith added that students, faculty and visitors all seem to be thrilled and impressed with the changes to the bookstore.

“We’ve heard great feedback on new features and renovations, such as the bright and upscale décor, Hat Zone, Custom Zone, The Gilded Bean and fast-moving check out,” Griffith wrote.

First-year student Martha Cleary, who has lived in South Bend for four years, offered insight into the positive differences she has noticed since the renovation.

“One thing I noticed is the carpet used to be a much darker color than it is now,” Cleary said. “I feel like they really opened up the space and made it much more welcoming.”

Cleary also noted the change in the distribution of apparel on the two floors of the bookstore.

“There didn’t used to be any women’s items on the first floor, which meant women had to go upstairs to shop. The new layout, which has both men’s and women’s clothing on the first floor, is far more inclusive and convenient,” she said.

Another change Holbert expects to be beneficial to Notre Dame students and faculty is the addition of social spaces.

“The social spaces placed throughout the bookstore provide intimate spaces for community gatherings,” Holbert wrote.

A social space located on the second floor of the Hammes Bookstore. Credit: Jenna Abu-Lughod | The Observer

Holbert said another prominent student-specific renovation is the introduction of new course materials and resources that are accessible to all.

“BNC offers students access to course materials across multiple formats to meet any student’s needs or budget, which we believe will benefit our students greatly,” he wrote. “This includes more than one million digital titles, a flexible rental program with the most expansive title list in the industry and access to the nation’s largest used textbook exchange.”

Similarly, BNC’s “Adoption and Insights Portal” is a new resource intended to specifically benefit faculty. It will allow faculty to “easily research and choose affordable course materials,” Holbert wrote.

More new features intended to improve fan and visitor experiences include convenient delivery options, the Custom Zone — which allows fans to customize one-of-a-kind hats, easy self and mobile checkout technology, and digital and analog wayfinding signs.

The Hat Zone and Custom Zone allow customers to make one-of-a-kind hats. Credit: Jenna Abu-Lughod | The Observer

“With new self and mobile check-out technology, customers can check out via their phones on the sales floor, making it easier than ever to bring home the best of Notre Dame books, gifts and apparel,” Holbert wrote. “New delivery options allow customers to purchase in-store and have their items shipped home, picked up after a game or delivered to their hotel. This offers Fighting Irish fans the convenience of purchasing products without needing to carry them around during games.”

Griffith and Holbert both emphasized that the management transition not only involved major changes to Notre Dame’s five bookstore retail properties but also to its online order fulfillment center.

“With BNC’s strategic omnichannel merchandising partnership with Fanatics and Lids, Notre Dame will have the most innovative merchandise and apparel programs available in the college market, as well as cutting-edge online and mobile accessibility,” Holbert wrote.

New self-checkout technology located in the Hammes Bookstore. Credit: Jenna Abu-Lughod | The Observer

However, according to Holbert, one of the most beautiful changes is in the actual design of the bookstore.

“Inspired by Notre Dame’s historic campus architecture, specific design elements were added to pay tribute to the look and feel of other campus landmarks including gold metal finishes that mimic the design of the University’s Basilica,” he wrote.

Contact Jenna Abu-Lughod at jabulugh@nd.edu.

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ND campus dining opens for a new semester, improves student experience

Luigi Alberganti, senior director of campus dining, said he was excited for the school year to start back up again.

“Speaking for the staff, we couldn’t wait until we could go back to our activities,” he said.

This year, the Notre Dame campus hosts three new dining options. The Gilded Bean, located in the Hammes Bookstore, features a café menu with bagel sandwich options. Rollin’ and Bowlin’, a new concept featuring smoothies and acai bowls, will be served at the Hagerty Family Café in Duncan Student center.

Sophomore J.P. Polking’s favorite new addition is FlipKitchen in LaFortune Student center.

“I love FlipKitchen. I’ve been probably like four times already in the past week and a half which isn’t good because I’m spending too much money, but it’s really good food,” he said.

At FlipKitchen, which replaced Subway, Alberganti explained the menu will be shifting throughout the year.

“There’s a core menu but then there is also a section of a menu that gets changed every three weeks in provide variety and excitement about that,” he said.

Dining Halls

Notre Dame’s wage increase has allowed the dining halls to also be more ambitious, Alberganti said.

“The university changed their compensation policies, allowing us to budget for a little bit more labor,” he said. “It’s all about the labor at this point.”

Executive chef of North Dining Hall (NDH) Matt Seitz said the University’s increase in wages has allowed the dining halls to increase performance by increasing worker productivity.

“We are paying (workers) an adequate wage. Because of that, we have simply asked that they do a little more,” he said.

With higher productivity, Alberganti said the dining halls are cooking more fresh food.

“We eliminated 20% of prepared convenience foods so we’re actually cooking from scratch a lot more now,” Alberganti said.

At the Welcome Weekend first-year dinner, which the dining halls served for free, Alberganti said the dining hall capabilities were tested, yet remained strong, when they provided “about 7,000 meals in a matter of 35 minutes.”

Sustainability and Supply Chain

Increase in personnel has also allowed the dining halls to increase sustainability programs once again, according to the campus dining director of supply chain and sustainability Cheryl Bauer.

“Some of the things that we’re really working to this year is bringing back programs that we had in place pre COVID-19,” she said.

Two major sustainability initiatives, Grind2Energy and Leanpath, are now being used again by the dining halls to monitor again and reuse food waste. The labor shortage during the 2021-22 year and the prior year’s COVID protocols weakened the initiatives, Bauer said.

“This year, we’ve taken the steps to really focus on those and get them going back up to where they were previously,” she said.

One step that is being implemented according to Bauer is signs at the dining halls telling students not to throw away food waste, which allows staff to scrape it and use it for the waste management programs.

Bauer also said the dining halls have had a smoother supply chain than last year.

The one exception to this year’s positive supply chain, Bauer said, is turkey. Due to the avian influenza wiping out turkey flocks throughout the country, she said there will be a shortage of deli turkey.

“You won’t see it on the deli bars in the dining halls. We’re putting roast chicken breasts out instead,” Bauer said.

Student feedback leading to improvements

Seitz mentioned that QR codes in the dining halls allowing students to give feedback on the dining hall experience has been helpful in improving the dining hall experience.

“I had one the other day that was, ‘can we please have pesto added back to the pasta line?’ That’s not an unreasonable request, so you’re going to see pesto added back to the pasta line,” Seitz said.

Another improvement Seitz noted was the chicken that is available every day. After hearing bad reviews of the chargrilled chicken last year, the staff changed the standard process to sear the chicken instead of grilling it to retain more of the chicken’s moisture. The improvements, Seitz said, is already evident in numbers.

“We used to go through between 400 or 500 pieces of chicken per meal for lunch and dinner. We’re actually upwards now to 1100 to 1200 pieces per meal.”

Lingering complaints along with positive reviews

Junior Emily Kirk, who mainly eats at NDH, said the dining hall experience compared to years past has been overall better, but that she still believes there’s improvements to be made, such as long lines.

“I’ve had friends who like wait an hour in that line,” Kirk said of the stir-fry line at the dining hall. “Most people don’t have time to do that. So, although it is a good option for food, it’s not always a practical one.”

Kirk said she also felt the salad offerings were not adequate.

“I like to get like a salad as like a backup option, but I feel like the salads are not that fresh,” she said.

Polking said, though he was happy with the overall dining experience, he has also experienced long lines.

“The lines are really long,” he said. “I don’t really know how you fix that, but at dinner last night, I waited for like 20 minutes just to get pasta.”

Despite this, Polking said he was not bothered by the overall dining hall experience compared to last year.

“I’m happy with it,” Polking said. “I don’t really have too many complaints.”

Sophomore Lucy Ordway, however, felt as though the dining hall experience has improved significantly from her first year.

“I think that the selection is better, and I also think that the quality of the food is better,” she said. “Tonight, at dinner, they had a much wider variety of vegetables and things that felt like I was eating healthier.”

Liam Price

Contact Liam at lprice3@nd.edu